The Unexpected Safari
A lot of people think that once you’ve been on safari, that’s it; a tick in the box. But what delights me about Kenya’s National Parks is their stunning diversity and their ability to surprise you in the most unexpected ways.
Yes, there’s the kind of safari that everyone dreams about – the Masai Mara with its wide open plains punctuated by acacia trees and inconceivable numbers of grazing animals. This kind of safari satisfies the dreams we conjured up as children after watching The Lion King over and over again.
For reals, this is a view that you commonly see in the Mara. I took this photo in Sept, 2014
Indulge that childhood fantasy and then consider all of the other marvellous wildlife encounters that could happen in Nakuru NP and its acacia-lined lake; the arid and hilly expanses of Tsavo East and Tsavo West; Amboseli, famous for its elephants and Mount Kilimanjaro backdrop; and Aberdares NP that is so lush and dense, you never know what might be lurking in the bush just a metre away - and that's just Kenya!
The Unexpected Safari - Aberdares National Park
Picture this: set amongst the lush vegetation of the Abadares NP, two hours north of Nairobi, there sits 'The Ark' - a wood panelled, ark-shaped hotel that lies conveniently next to a watering hole and salt lick.
Inside, pelts and head mounts adorn the walls, fires roar and cocktails are churned out of the bar at an alarming rate as tourists sit upon the deck, waiting for the forest's animals to come to them. It was an extremely kitsch arrangement. To complete the look, all I needed was a lamé jumpsuit and Farrah Fawcett hair flick, circa 1975:
The Ark's doors closed at 7pm, after all, we were in a National Park where angry buffaloes, hyenas and leopards roam freely amongst the densely packed forest. At this time, we sat down to a buffet dinner in the wood-paneled restaurant (in line with the 70s feel). Everyone hurriedly piled the food down their throats, desperate not to miss the action at the watering hole.
In fact, tourists were so desperate to get a glimpse at the rare beasties in the forest, that the hotel installed an alarm system in each bedroom. You can, of course, choose not to be disturbed, but if, like us, you were thrilled by the idea of running down the hotel's corridors at 3am with the chance of seeing a leopard or a rhino, the choice is there.
Photo credit: Holiday Watchdog
We alternated between the three decks of varying heights, overlooking elephants; buffaloes; warthogs; hyenas; bush buck; and giants bush hogs, all the while sipping gin-based cocktails - safari for the lazy.
Unlike most safaris, where you're passing the animals in transit and encouraged not to loiter for too long or in large groups, here we were afforded plenty of time to witness behaviours and even distinct personalities. We were enraptured by one baby elephant that was brimming with confidence, maybe too much. Every time a bush hog came to the periphery of the watering hole, it would chase it away, trunk in the air, before its mother realised, panicked, and brought it back into the safety of the herd.
Just off the ground floor dining room there is a stone structure with peep holes that allow for even more intimate viewing. Here, you're really no more than a few metres away from the animals doing their business. We were witness to a barbaric act no more than five metres in front of us - a large bull elephant did a very powerful pee. So ferocious that we thought that a few drops might catch us. Once finished, a thirsty buffalo sauntered over and drank from the pool of pee. The watering hole was just a short distance away, but no, the pee was apparently more appealing (pun intended).
Photo credit: Wild Wing Safaris
We stayed alert until 1am, but the roaring fire and plentiful cocktails were making us sleepy. We decided to go to bed and let the watchman alert us to the ‘special’ animals through the alarm system. The elusive animals were either true to their nature, or the watchman nodded off as we had, because we didn’t get a call that night.
We exited the park in a small coach and discussed how we had not been likely to see the forest’s most secretive animals anyway. Only the lucky do and it’s down to pure chance. Incredibly, the safari gods must have heard our call – a large bull elephant stormed out of the bush, a leopard hopping gracefully out of its way and into the open space. It rolled on its back leisurely and then stalked back into the bush. A whole 90 seconds of leopard action. We were blessed.
The Ark is an unexpected safari experience that offers up unexpected encounters, from start to finish.
How to get to The Ark
We had a buffet lunch at the Aberdare Country Club and were then taken to the Ark gate and through to the hotel on a minibus, courtesy of the Club. Both lunch and transport are complimentary when you book a room.